By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2. A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin, pp. 52-92


The wolves, Summer and Shaggydog, are howling so much that others at Winterfell are complaining. No one can explain to Bran why they are howling, though Maester Luwin theorizes that they are howling at the comet, which produces its own theories from Osha, who thinks the comet means "Blood and fire, boy, and nothing sweet." And from Septon Chayle, who interprets it as "the sword that slays the season," and when the white raven arrives bringing its prophecy of winter, his theory seems to have been validated. Old Nan thinks the comet means dragons.

Bran, remembering the howls of the direwolves when his father died, is worried that their howling signifies a death. "Had some enemy slain the King in the North, who used to be his brother Robb? Had his bastard brother Jon Snow fallen from the Wall? Had his mother died, or one of his sisters?" He wishes he could think like a direwolf so he could interpret their howls, and he begins to howl himself. The sound brings the guard Hayhead to see what's wrong, and he tells Bran to stop. Bran continues, so Hayhead goes to fetch Maester Luwin, who thinks he should sleep.

When he sleeps, he turns into a wolf, he tells Luwin, who thinks Bran should spend more time with the other children in the castle. But Bran tells him he hates the other children, referring particularly to the two boys named Walder Frey whom Catelyn has taken in as wards -- part of the agreement with Lord Walder that earned his support of Robb in the fight against the Lannisters. There has been an incident involving one of the Frey boys and Rickon's wolf Shaggydog that has led to the wolves being banished to the godswood. Luwin fully supports this restriction on the wolves: "The truth is, those sweet pups you and your brothers found in the snow have grown into dangerous beasts. The Frey boys are wise to be wary of them."

But Bran resumes his howling, so Luwin leaves, "With a look that was part grief and part disgust." Bran grows quiet when he is alone again, and reflects on the incident that led to the direwolves' banishment. The two Walders, known as Big Walder and Little Walder, are cousins. When they arrived at Winterfell they were given Jon Snow's old room, which Bran resents. The boys had devised a game that involved one of them standing on a log in the pool in the godswood and trying to keep others from crossing the log. The children of the various castle servants and and officials join in the game, and the sound of their laughter and splashing made Bran bitterly resent that he was unable to join in. But then Rickon joined the game, and when Little Walder knocked him off the log, Shaggydog attacked Little Walder. The wolves and the children were separated after that.  To make matters worse for Bran, Rickon and the Walders became good friends after that, scandalizing Bran by taking the Frey boys into the family vaults.

Maester Luwin returns with a sleeping potion, and Osha carries Bran to the bed. After he drinks the potion, Osha stays behind and asks, "Is it the wolf dreams again?" Bran nods yes, and she tells him, "I see you talking to the heart tree. Might be the gods are trying to talk back." And Bran falls asleep and dreams that he is a wolf, prowling the grounds of Winterfell. "Beyond its sky-tall man-cliffs the true world was calling, and he knew he must answer or die."


As they travel northward, the group of recruits for the Wall encounter hundreds of people fleeing southward from the conflicts, heading toward King's Landing. Some of these refugees warn them that they're going the wrong way, and one man, a merchant, tries to buy the supplies Yoren is carrying. "It's war, they'll take what they want, you'll do better selling to me, my friend." They begin to come across graves by the roadside, and one day a member of their own party, a sellsword named Praed, is found dead. Yoren distributes Praed's belongings to the recruits, giving his longsword to the boy known as the Bull.

They stop at an inn that has a bathhouse, but though she smells bad and is covered with lice and fleas, Arya doesn't dare strip for a bath. Again they are warned by the southward travelers at the inn: "There's no going north. Half the fields are burnt, and what folks are left are walled up inside their holdfasts." Yoren reminds them that the Watch is neutral in civil conflicts: "Tully or Lannister, makes no matter. The Watch takes no part." Arya resents this because her grandfather is Lord Tully, but she keeps her silence, even when she hears, "And the Starks are in it too, the young lord's come down, the dead Hand's son...." She is startled to realize that he must mean Robb.

Another man says, "I heard the boy rides to battle on a wolf," though others scoff. And a man says, "It's been a bad year for wolves.... Around the Gods Eye, the packs have grown bolder'n anyone can remember." A woman chimes in that the pack leader is "a she-wolf, a bitch from the seventh hell." Arya wonders, "Was the Gods Eye near the Trident? She wished she had a map. It had been near the Trident that she'd left Nymeria," driving her wolf away with stones. "She probably wouldn't even know me now, Arya thought. Or if she did, she'd hate me." But when a man says he'd heard that the she-wolf had walked into a village and taken a baby from its mother's arms, Arya can't contain herself, and blurts out, "Wolves don't eat babies." Yoren intervenes to keep her from attracting more attention, and kicks her out of the inn.

Outside, one of the men chained in the wagon calls to her. "He was the youngest of the three, slender, fine-featured, always smiling. His hair was red on one side and white on the other." His fellow prisoners are a man with a hole where his nose should have been, and a bald man who hisses at her. When he opens his mouth she can see he has a stump where a tongue should have been. The first man apologizes, "A man does not choose his companions in the black cells." He tells her his name is Jaqen H'ghar and he is from the Free City of Lorath. The one without a nose is Rorge, and the other is Biter. "Biter cannot speak and Biter cannot write, yet his teeth are very sharp, so a man calls him Biter and he smiles." Remembering Syrio's maxim, "Fear cuts deeper than swords," Arya gets closer to the trio. Biter lunges for her, and she hits him between his eyes, driving him back temporarily. He strains forward again, but to no avail and sinks back.

Jaqen H'ghar says, "A boy has more courage than sense." Suddenly Arya feels a hand on her shoulder, and turns around, raising her stick sword. But it's the Bull, who reminds her that Yoren said they should stay away from the three. She tells him they don't scare her, but he says, "Then you're stupid. They scare me." As they walk back toward the inn, she asks him, "Want to fight?" He is surprised by the challenge, but as she moves into a fighting position he looks beyond her at something. It is a group of men from the City Watch. She pulls the Bull with her into a hiding place.

The leader of the group dismounts and tells the recruits in front of the bathhouse that he has a warrant for a boy. Arya whispers to the Bull, "It's me they want." Yoren comes out and the officer shows him the warrant, which has the queen's seal on it. Yoren looks at the warrant and says it's not valid because the boy is in the Night's Watch. Any crimes he may have committed have been superseded by that. The officer draws a sword and says he has five men to back him up. Yoren replies that he has thirty, and the boys begin to produce weapons.

Arya emerges from hiding and draws Needle. The officer scoffs at her, "Put the blade away, little girl, no one wants to hurt you." Arya protests that she's not a girl, but realizes that something's wrong. She insists, "I'm the one you want." But when the Bull comes forward to join her, the officer proclaims, "He's the one we want."

Yoren has intervened, however, and has his sword at the officer's throat. The officer drops his sword and the six gold-cloaked riders retreat, but their leader vows, "The next time I catch you, I believe I'll have your head to go with the bastard boy's." They ride off, and Yoren tells his recruits to get ready to ride all night to put some distance between themselves and the gold cloaks. Then he tells the Bull, "Queen wants you bad, boy."

Arya wants to know why the queen wants the Bull, and she asks him his name. "'Gendry,' he said, like he wasn't quite sure." Yoren tells Arya and Gendry to take the two fastest horses and if the gold cloaks show up to head for the Wall as fast as possible.


Samwell is in the library searching for maps in preparation for an expedition beyond the Wall to search for the still-missing Benjen Stark. Jon has gone to fetch him because the Commander has grown impatient for the maps. Sam is in awe of the collection: "Jon, the books, have you ever seen their like? There are thousands!" Jon is indifferent, however, and hustles the reluctant Sam away.

Sam's reluctance stems from the fact that he is part of the expedition. Jon assures him that the expedition's forces are so numerous, "You'll be as safe as if you were back in our lord father's castle at Horn Hill," which is no comfort to Sam: "I was never very safe in my father's castle either."
The gods play cruel jests, Jon thought. Pyp and Toad, all a lather to be a part of the great ranging, were to remain at Castle Black. It was Samwell Tarly, the self-proclaimed coward, grossly fat, timid, and near as bad a rider as he was with a sword, who must face the haunted forest. The Old Bear was taking two cages of ravens, so they might send back word as they went. Maester Aemon was blind and far too frail to ride with them, so his steward must go in his place.
As they emerge from the library, Jon notices how empty the grounds seem. Many of the men are off in Mole's Town at the brothel, having a last indulgence before the journey, while others are in the sept. "Some men want whores on the eve of battle, and some want gods," Jon thinks. He sees the new master-at-arms, who replaced his enemy Ser Alliser Thorne, training some new recruits that the armorer Donal Noye describes to him as "A brigand, a barber, a beggar, two orphans, and a boy whore. With such do we defend the realms of men." Jon talks with Noye about the surprising news that his brother Robb has become a king.

They find Lord Commander Mormont impatiently waiting for the maps and arguing with jThoren Smallwood, a ranger who had been an ally of Ser Alliser Thorne, and is no friend of Jon and Sam. Smallwood is arguing that Mormont should remain at Castle Black and name him First Ranger and let him lead the expedition, but Mormont is having none of  it. Smallwood leaves, though "On the way out, he frowned at Jon, as if it were somehow his fault." Mormont says he'd sooner name Sam First Ranger than Smallwood.

Mormont is disappointed with the maps Sam has located, complaining that they are old. Jon points out, "The villages may come and go, but the hills and rivers will be in the same places," which Mormont agrees is true. He asks Sam if he has picked out the ravens for the journey, and Sam, who is terrified of Mormont, stammers that Maester Aemon is going to select them. Mormont wants the best ones: "If it happens that we're all butchered out there, I mean for my successor to know where and how we died." The reminder of the danger of the journey "reduced Samwell Tarly to speechlessness." Mormont dismisses him, and Sam gladly leaves.

Mormont asks Jon if the hand that was burned in the encounter with the undead Othor has recovered enough for him to handle the sword Longclaw, and Jon removes his glove to show him the scars. Maester Aemon has given him some salve and advised him to exercise the hand every day. Mormont commends Aemon, and asks Jon, "Do you know that he might have been king?" Jon knew that Aemon was of the Targaryen royal family, but hadn't realized that he was that high in the line of succession. Mormont discusses the Targaryen lineage and says that it was the political infighting that caused Aemon to come to the Wall.

Jon asks why Mormont raises the subject, and Mormont observes, "Your brother Robb has been crowned King in the North. You and Aemon have that in common. A king for a brother." He and Aemon both took vows, Jon says, but Mormont scoffs, "Give me a man for every vow I've seen broken and the Wall will never lack for defenders." He then describes the contrast between the life Robb will lead as a king and the one Jon will lead as a member of the Watch. "Tell me that none of this troubles you, Jon ... and I'll name you a liar, and know I have the truth of it." Jon retorts that even if it troubles him, what can he do about it, "bastard as I am?"

"What will you do?" Mormont asked. "Bastard as you are?"

"Be troubled," said Jon, "and keep my vows."

A crown has been made for Robb from bronze and iron, "the metals of winter, dark and strong to fight against the cold," and Catelyn observes that Robb finds it heavy and uncomfortable. He is holding court, and Ser Cleos Frey has been brought before him. Robb, sitting with his unsheathed sword across his lap, tells Ser Cleos to rise. "Ser Cleos had been taken during the battle in the Whispering Wood, where Grey Wind had ripped out the throats of half a dozen men," so he exhibits fear when the wolf comes forward and sniffs at him. He addresses Robb as "my lord," and is loudly corrected by Lord Umber, the Greatjon: "Your Grace."

Robb tells him that he has been brought from his cell to carry a message to Cersei Lannister in King's Landing. It contains the terms of a peace between him and the queen: She is to release Sansa and Arya and send them home; cancel Sansa's betrothal to Joffrey; when they reach Winterfell he will release Willem Lannister and Cleos's brother Tion, who are Cersei's cousins; she will return Eddard Stark's bones and the remains of the members of his household guard; she will also return his father's sword, Ice; she will command Tywin to release the knights and bannermen he took captive; when he does so, he will release his own captives, except for Jaime Lannister; and finally "King Joffrey and the Queen Regent must renounce all claims to dominion over the north."

There are cries, led by Greatjon Umber, of "The King in the North!"

He adds that he's sending a map of borders beyond with Tywin must withdraw, and release his people from taxes and his lords and knight from any oaths of fealty to the Iron Throne and the houses of Baratheon and Lannister. And the Lannisters must "deliver ten highborn hostages," who will be treated as "honored guests" as long as the peace holds, and two of these hostages will be released every year for the duration of the peace.

More cries of "Stark, Stark, King in the North!" and a howl from Grey Wind.

After it's over, Catelyn tells him that he did well, though she thought "that business with the wolf was japery more befitting a boy than a king," and she noticed that Lord Rickard Karstark walked out when the talk of peace began. Catelyn's brother, Edmure, says he is also uneasy with the talk of peace as long as the Lannisters are out pillaging and slaughtering. He says they should be marching on Harrenhal instead, and worries that "Lord Karstark is a northman. It would be an ill thing if he were to leave us."

Catelyn sides with Robb, though with reservations: "An offer had to be made -- though a wiser man might have offered sweeter terms." Robb retorts, "Any sweeter and I would have gagged." Catelyn reflects that "he was still a youth of fifteen," and it had been hard to persuade him to make even this offer. She "was finding that kings do not listen half so attentively as sons." She is still concerned about Arya and Sansa and that if any harm comes to Jaime Lannister, "Cersei will pay us back blood for blood."

When Robb suggests that she might retreat to a safer place, or even return to Winterfell, Catelyn becomes more aware of how strained their relationship is becoming. She is worried about his reliance on Theon Greyjoy, whom she does not trust. So she goes to visit her father, who is on the brink of death, and finds her uncle, Ser Brynden Tully, the Blackfish, there. He gives her news of the fighting and unrest that is spreading across the land, and of the disintegration of the alliances forged during the war. Gregor Clegane has been doing Tywin Lannister's dirty work everywhere.

"Lannister wants to provoke us to battle," Brynden says, and Catelyn worries, "Robb is like to give him that wish." He replies, "My first rule of war, Cat -- never give the enemy his wish." What Tywin most wishes, he says, is for Robb to attack Harrenhal, Lannister's fortress. But even worse, he says, is that "a new host is gathering at Casterly Rock," commanded by Ser Stafford Lannister, a cousin of Tywin's and the brother of Tywin's deceased wife.

The only way to prevail, Brynden suggests, is by drawing Tywin out of Harrenhal. And one way to do that would be to stir Renly Baratheon to attack.

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